Hard Anodized Cookware: A Complete Guide
Pan technology evolves pretty quickly, meaning there are always new terms to learn and keep up with. Some nonstick fads come and go at breakneck speeds, while others stick around for a while. One of the nonstick buzzwords that’s not going anywhere is “hard anodized,” but clearly, it’s not always apparent what, exactly, that means.
So… what does hard anodized mean?
What does hard anodized mean?
Hard anodized cookware simply means any pot, pan or bakeware that has used electrolysis to produce an oxidized, protective coating that is resistant to corrosion.
“Anodized” indicates that your cookware has been immersed in a chemical bath and subjected to an electric current, causing oxidation. And “hard anodized” simply means that this process has been extended by using a higher voltage and lower temperature, resulting in a harder, more even, and more resistant protective layer.
How is hard anodized cookware made?
Hard anodized cookware is made by submerging a pot, pan or piece of bakeware in a chemical bath and subjecting it to an electrical current, using a process called electrolysis.
Electrolysis is simply a procedure whereby an electric current is passed through a substance – in this case, a chemical bath, usually composed of water and sodium carbonate – to create a chemical change. Electrolysis is used in any number of applications, from the purification of different metals to hair removal – yikes!
But when electrolysis is used in the production of cookware, the aim is to produce a hard oxidized layer that coats the entirety of your pot, pan or piece of bakeware.
By subjecting the submerged cookware to high voltage and maintaining a relatively low temperature, manufacturers are able to produce a very hard, very durable oxidized coating. This coating has wonderful nonstick properties and is extremely efficient at protecting your cookware.
Is it safe to use hard anodized cookware?
Given the fact that hard anodized cookware is finished in a chemical bath and undergoes electrolysis, you might ask – is it safe?
Hard anodized cookware is completely safe when used in normal kitchen applications. As long as the integrity of the hard anodized coating is maintained, there is no significant danger of food toxicity.
Let’s break things down further. First, a closer look at the material that your hard anodized pot, pan or bakeware is likely made from, aluminum. Aluminum cookware is safe for most applications, so long as it is not exposed to extreme temperatures or acidic foods, like tomatoes, citrus or vinegar.
People are often concerned about aluminum toxicity, and those concerns are valid, but research has consistently shown that the use of aluminum in normal kitchen applications is safe. This includes cooking foods with aluminum foil, aluminum pots and pans, and of course, hard anodized aluminum cookware.
How to clean hard anodized cookware
The best way to clean any pan, including hard anodized cookware, is when it’s still warm but not hot (more on this below). Simply rinse under hot water with dish soap, wiping away grease and food debris with a gentle sponge.
Basically, washing your pan when it’s still warm gives you an opportunity to hit those little bits of food debris before they’ve had time to cool down and harden. We’ve all made this mistake, and we all know it’s a pain!
But here’s what you need to watch out for, and what I caution against above. You should never wash a pan – any pan – that’s still too hot to touch with your bare hand. Running water, and especially cool water, over a hot pan can cause the pan to warp, or even crack.
With any cookware, we’re always looking to avoid drastic temperature shifts, meaning going from cold to hot (from a refrigerator into the oven, for example) or from hot to cold (running your hot pan under cold water).
But because we want to wash our cookware when it’s still warm, or at least before it gets cold, we need to really pay attention in order to wash it when it’s still in that not-too-hot, not-too-cold sweet spot. I use the following trick to determine whether or not my pan has cooled off enough to go in the sink:
I call this the “is-it-too-hot-to-touch?” test:
STEP ONE: Clever name, and yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like. After you’ve finished cooking, turn off the heat on your pan and leave it to rest for a few minutes, allowing it to cool.
STEP TWO: After a few minutes (you will quickly get a sense of how long each pan in your collection takes to cool), it’s time to test for temperature. When you’re ready, simply touch the outer rim of the pan with the heel of your hand.
I know it sounds kind of painful, but it’s really not. The heel of the hand has more calluses than fingers and fewer nerve endings, so it’s pretty robust. If you can hold your palm to the pan for 5 seconds or longer without discomfort, then you know that the pan has cooled sufficiently and is good to go.
STEP THREE: Turn on the hot water in your sink and let it run, waiting for it to get very hot.
STEP FOUR: Now holding your pan by the handle, bring the cookware to the sink and let the hot water run against the cooking surface. The water will both rinse loose debris away, and keep peskier food bits nice and hot, making them easier to wipe away.
STEP FIVE: Turn off the water, and using a gentle sponge and dish soap, wipe away any excess food debris or oil. Although you might be tempted to use an abrasive sponge for this step, I would strongly advise against that, as it may compromise the nonstick coating of your pan.
STEP SIX: Once you’ve wiped away all of the food debris, turn the water back on and rinse the pan of excess soap. If you find that there is still food or oil on your pan, return to step four and repeat.
STEP SEVEN: Always dry your cookware immediately, using either paper towels or a clean dish cloth.
Does hard anodized cookware scratch?
While hard anodized cookware is designed to be durable, it is possible to scratch if used improperly. That said, hard anodized cookware is far more invulnerable to scratches as compared to traditional nonstick pans.
In fact, this relative invulnerability to scratching is the whole point of hard anodization. Let’s take the oxidized coating on hard anodized cookware and juxtapose it with a standard PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene, trade name Teflon) pan.
While I go into much greater detail on the respective advantages and disadvantages of hard anodized vs. nonstick and PTFE pans below, there is no denying the simple fact that the oxidized coating on hard anodized cookware is far superior to almost all nonstick coatings (PTFE based or not) when it comes to resiliency.
While PTFE coatings are celebrated for their nonstick properties, they are generally pretty poor when it comes to holding up in the kitchen. That’s because Teflon, despite sounding tough, is in fact pretty “soft,” at least when compared with hard anodized pans.
Can you put hard anodized cookware in the oven?
Hard anodized cookware is oven safe for up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit so long as it does not have a plastic or polymer handle.
This is another tremendous advantage over other nonstick coatings, which really shouldn’t go in the oven. Most nonstick coatings – PTFE and even hybrids – are pretty sensitive to high temperatures, owing in large part to the materials used in their manufacture.
But hard anodized cookware doesn’t have that problem, which makes it incredibly convenient when you’re making meals that require movement from stovetop to oven.
In the past, putting your cooktop pans into the oven really limited you to using either cast iron or stainless steel, and both are pretty tricky to use without food sticking. But now, with the advent of hard anodized cookware, we can safely put a nonstick pan into the oven for the very first time.
Can you put hard anodized cookware in the dishwasher?
One of the great benefits of hard anodized cookware is that unlike most other nonstick cookware, it is dishwasher safe.
This fact is thanks to the number one property of hard anodized cookware, its extremely robust oxidized surface. So not only is hard anodized cookware scratch resistant, for this reason and others outlined above, but it’s also good-to-go when it comes to dishwashers.
Of course, there’s a caveat – and why wouldn’t there be?
While that ultra hard anodized layer is resilient when it comes to scratching and any damage that a dishwasher might cause, it’s not completely immune to wear and tear – no pans are, except maybe when it comes to cast iron.
For this reason, I still like to treat my hard anodized cookware gently, because I really want them to last. That means that I still typically like to cook with either wood or silicone utensils, rather than metal, and even though you technically could put them in the dishwasher, I usually wash by hand anyway.
This is really my own neurosis though, and I wouldn’t want that to prevent you from enjoying the ease of your home dishwasher.
Can you use hard anodized cookware on an induction and/or glass cooktop?
Unfortunately, most hard anodized cookware will not work well on an induction cooktop. This is because hard anodized cookware is made from a very high percentage of aluminum, which does not conduct electricity.
There are exceptions, however. Some hard anodized cookware is made with a ferromagnetic base, which means that enough iron and/or steel has been added to the pans bottom to make it compatible with induction cooktops.
This works because induction ranges conduct heat via electromagnetic pulses, and in a nutshell, iron and steel will conduct those electromagnetic pulses, while aluminum will not. For a complete explanation of induction cooking, how it works and best practices, and a list of the best induction ranges on the market, check out my complete guide to induction cooking.
There are a few of these hard anodized pans out there, like this KitchenAid skillet (an affordable option) and this Breville Thermal Pro (the high end option, and in my opinion well, well worth it).
So if you’re not sure if your hard anodized cookware is induction compatible and it doesn’t explicitly say that it is, it probably isn’t. To be sure, my suggestion would be to go with one of the two options above.
How to use hard anodized cookware
Hard anodized cookware is relatively simple and easy to use. And while hard anodized pans are nonstick, they aren’t as slick as those made with thermoplastics, so you’ll need to oil the cooking surface.
Cooking with hard anodized pans is really a matter of following the same rules you already abide by when cooking in any other pan, namely:
- Always let the pan heat up before adding anything to it.
- Once your pan is hot, add your oil– either a neutral cooking oil or butter, or combination – and allow the oil to get hot before adding any food.
- Don’t overcrowd the pan – this can cause the pan temperature to drop, and lead to excessive moisture retention, resulting in mushy food.
- Don’t fidget with the food too much. This of course depends on what you’re cooking, but most often you don’t actually have to flip your food that much, unless you’re preparing food at extremely high temperatures in a wok. Let your food rest in the pan, giving it a good sear on both sides.
Deglaze your pans! Regardless of how slick your pan is, it’s most likely going to accumulate some food bits on the cooking surface. These food bits are technically called “fond,” and the truth is, they’re packed with flavor! You want that in your food, not the garbage.
The best way to make sure that that flavor ends up in your food is by deglazing with a liquid – stock, wine or even water – as you are coming to the end of your dish. If you’re using wine though be careful, you’ll want to give it enough time for the alcohol to burn off before serving.
Is hard anodized cookware nonstick?
Hard anodized pans are made with an oxidized coating that has both protective and nonstick qualities. While this oxidized coating is not as slick as PTFE, it is nevertheless easy to cook on and more importantly, safe and resilient to scratching.
In order to get a fully nonstick cooking experience out of hard anodized cookware, you’ll need to use oil, something you’re probably doing anyway. The truth is, even the slickest of nonstick pans usually require a bit of greasing up, especially as they begin to wear down.
Simply heat your pan, and once it’s hot add about a tablespoon of cooking oil – I like to use vegetable oil or butter, or a combination. When using a combination of oil and butter, add the oil first and allow it to get hot, and then add the butter. Doing it the other way around will cause your butter to burn.
Hard anodized vs. nonstick
Let’s get one thing clear, the term “nonstick” can refer to a variety of cookware designs. Nonstick can mean that a pan is coated in Teflon – otherwise known by its industry name, polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE – maifanite stone or even seasoned to have non stick properties.
In fact, you could even use the term “nonstick” to refer to hard anodized pans themselves. So where does this leave us when comparing hard anodized cookware to “nonstick” cookware? Well, we need to focus and be specific about what kind of nonstick surface we’re referring to.
When we say “nonstick,” we’re really referring to the coating on our cookware that produces non-stick properties. So, in this case, nonstick coatings may be composed of any of the following:
Polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE – This is the industry name for Teflon, which is a thermoplastic polymer. Teflon is known for its slickness, which makes it ideal for adding non-stick properties to cookware.
- The downside, of course and as I’ve alluded to above, is that Teflon, despite being relatively tough, highly flexible and with excellent thermal resistance – is also quite soft, making it incredibly vulnerable to scratching
- In short, Teflon works wonderfully for a little while, but will need to be replaced a few years after purchase, if not sooner.
Fluoropolymers – This is another set of thermoplastic polymers using the thermoplastic PTFE (the same used in Teflon, polytetrafluoroethylene) as its main ingredient.
In short, fluoropolymer non-stick coatings will share almost all of the advantages (and notably, disadvantages) of PTFE discussed above. It is essentially Teflon by another name.
Ceramics – Non-stick coatings made from “ceramics” are all the rage these days, and one good reason for this popularity is how good they look – just see the photo above for proof of that.
You’ve probably seen them online and in stores, as they’re pretty easy to pick out by their earth tones and textured surfaces. Maifanite stone is one popular ceramic coating, prized for its relative hardness and ability to withstand high temperatures.
But how do you coat a pan in stone you might ask? Good question. The truth is, these pans aren’t coated in stone as you normally think of it, but rather, a kind of sand better known as silica, or silicon dioxide. The best part – they’re incredibly safe!
Hybrids – Finally, we’ve got hybrids, which, as the name suggests is simply a combination of the above mentioned non-stick coatings. Very often ceramic coated pans will mix a bit of PTFE or similar polymer, like fluoropolymer, in with the silicon dioxide, in order to maximize the beneficial properties of each.
This means that if you’re opposed to cooking on thermoplastic polymers, you’ll want to take a close look at your hybrid pans to ensure that they only use the materials you’re comfortable with.
Hard anodized vs. Teflon
Now, let’s take a closer look at Teflon and see how it matches up to hard anodized, oxidized nonstick cookware. Don’t forget that Teflon is the brand name for the industry material known as PTFE, or polytetrafluoroethylene.
- Nonstick, with some added oil.
- Safe, will not leach chemicals.
- Scratch resistant.
- Oven and dishwasher safe.
- Excellent Heat Distribution and Conductivity.
- Chemical, thermal and electrical resistant.
- Highly flexible.
- Chemical, thermal and electrical resistant.
What is PFOA?
PFOA, known as perfluorooctanoic acid and more commonly as C8, is a material used to make PTFE. Because PFOA is harmful when ingested it has been removed from most – if not all – PTFE nonstick coatings.
When you research nonstick cookware you’ll oftentimes come across a disclaimer that says “no PFOA,” indicating that the nonstick coating does not contain perfluorooctanoic acid. And that’s important, because manufactures and reputable brands are really moving away from the material.
PFOA has a relatively low boiling point (about 372 – 378 degrees Fahrenheit), which just happens to be the temperature that a lot of us cook at, meaning that pans not properly cured in manufacture could easily leach PFOA into the food or cause harmful vapors.
Now, some have argued that the risk of leaching PFOA while cooking is actually pretty low, and that’s because when pans are cured during manufacture they are exposed to extremely high temperatures (something like 800 degrees Fahrenheit), which “melts” off any excess PFOA well before that pan finds its way into your kitchen.
While this may have some truth to it, I don’t fully buy it, and will follow industry recommendations – and the signaling from manufacturers – that PFOA be avoided at all costs. There are so many nonstick coating options that don’t include PFOA, making it a truly unnecessary risk.